The Tampa Bay Rays have been given permission by Major League Baseball to explore the possibility of splitting their home games between the Tampa Bay area and Montreal, according to Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times.
The proposed arrangement could see the club eventually play early-season games in the Tampa Bay area before finishing the season in Montreal, sources told Jeff Passan of ESPN.
The plan is in its early stages and wouldn't be expected to take effect in the immediate future. It would also reportedly involve new stadiums being built in each city. MLB commissioner Rob Manfred told Mark Feinsand of MLB.com that the team is committed to playing at Tropicana Field through the end of 2027, which is when the current lease ends.
Following the news, St. Petersburg mayor Rick Kriseman was explicit, telling Josh Tolentino of The Athletic he would prevent the Rays from following through on this proposal until the lease expires.
"The Rays cannot explore playing any Major League Baseball games in Montreal or anywhere else for that matter prior to 2028, without reaching a formal memorandum of understanding with the City of St. Petersburg.
Ultimately, such a decision is up to me. And I have no intention of bringing this latest idea to our city council to consider. In fact, I believe this is getting a bit silly."
Montreal hasn't had a baseball team since the Expos moved to D.C. and became the Washington Nationals following the 2004 season. However, the Toronto Blue Jays have hosted spring exhibition games at Olympic Stadium in Montreal in recent years.
After many failed attempts to get a new stadium deal in the Tampa Bay area, the new plan is reportedly seen as a feasible solution by the Rays' ownership group, which is led by Stuart Sternberg.
Most recently, the Rays explored a stadium deal in Ybor City and released renderings of a glass-domed venue. The proposal suggested a 50-50 split between public and private funding for the $900-million facility, but wound up being rejected by the league office due to concerns over site control, political approvals, private investor commitments, and total projected cost.
After news broke about the proposed split with Montreal, Sternberg issued a statement that said he's "committed to keeping baseball in Tampa Bay for generations to come."
However, the Rays have struggled with attendance throughout the duration of their time in St. Petersburg, and are drawing 14,546 fans per game this season - the second-worst mark in MLB next to the Miami Marlins - despite boasting an impressive 43-31 record.